Are We in Demo Hell ?

Are we in Demo Hell

Performing a demo is arguably one of the most important tasks that an SE can perform in a sales process.  A demo is when the SE is at their most potent.  A great SE can use a demo to paint a vision about positive business outcomes and how we can help the customer achieve them.  They can really captivate their audience, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it can make or break an opportunity.  But without understanding the customer need, are we just in Demo Hell?

Working with the AEs

With the correct level of preparation and partnership with the AE, a demo or series of demos can really accelerate the sales process.  But like any process, we need to make sure that we do things in the right order and deliver the right demo at the right time..

But demo hell is close as well.  I have heard many Account Executives say one of the scariest phrases for an SE – “Just give the customer a demo” or words to that effect.  The SE is now in a world of pain and is setup for failure – demo hell.  Why ? Because we have no idea what the customer is looking for, what their challenges are and how we might be able to help them.  Any demo at this point has no direction, no outcomes and little hope of success..  

A good SE will use their experience of the market and their portfolio to hit some pain points that the customer will probably be experiencing, but the reality is that we just wasted a chance to really drive the conversation with the customer.  A great SE will ensure that we don’t end up in this situation in the first place.

So how does a great SE avoid this situation and how do we ensure that we give the right demo ?  And what do I mean by the right demo ?

Warning Signs

Be aware of the warning signs : You get pulled into a meeting at the last minute with some vague excuse that there might be someone technical at the meeting or maybe the AE says something like it would be good to get an extra set of eyeballs at the meeting.  These are signs that the meeting is not well planned and that we do not have specific goals and outcomes for the customer and also for us.  

It is likely to be a disaster waiting to happen, and when the meeting fails the AE blames you for giving a ‘bad demo’ that sank the opportunity.  Make it a habit to always check on what we are trying to achieve in a meeting.

Which Demo?

So now we are aligned on the meeting strategy and the goals but we still don’t just want to give a vanilla demo to a customer.  We need to tailor our demo to where we are in the sales process.  Are we trying to educate the customer about the market and/or our capabilities overall ?  Are we trying to use a demo as part of a discovery process or a feasibility workshop ? Or are we doing a technical deep dive or proving our capabilities ?

If our product is relatively simple and operates in a market that is well understood by the buyers, or maybe you have a product-led growth sales motion, then we might not even need to do an in-person demo at all.  

There has been a recent rise in some amazing demo technologies by companies like Consensus and Demostack to produce automated demos and to build platforms for SEs to streamline the demo process.  We should always be looking at ways to engage our customers as early as possible in the sales cycle and these tools do a great job of assisting with that.  

Customer Education

Early in the sales cycle we may need to educate the customer on the technology and market at a high level.  Best practice now is to try to automate this or drive it through our business development teams.  These are relatively short demos that aim to raise awareness of market fit and our capabilities.  With leading edge technologies these demos should help to educate the customer on the need for the solution and how innovative the market will be for them.  The goal is to help them recognise the need for the solution.

Set the Hook

Where we may start to be pulled in is with a ‘Set the Hook’ demo.  We are getting ready to try to hook the customer to start to drive the opportunity.  A great SE will use this demo to provide a solution overview that talks about the challenges that we see in the market, how we are different and how our platform can help customers achieve certain positive business outcomes.  They will have examples of where we have done this in the past and maybe demonstrate how we achieved the customer goals.

A great SE will also use this demo to determine how much the customer knows about the market and our solutions.  They will also be aware that a competitor may have already set the landscape with the customer and so they are listening out for language that competitors use to see if the customer has already been influenced.  The goal is to get the customer interested enough to explore further and to setup the next set of meetings.  

One key point here – this is not about proving how much you know about the product – it is all about showing value-add to the customer.

Workshop Demo

The next key demo type is the Workshop demo.  As SEs we need to ensure that we are building a list of the Required Capabilities that a customer needs to be able to achieve their future state and positive business outcomes.  One of the best ways to uncover those RCs is through workshops.  My preferred way of doing this is to arrange a Feasibility Workshop.  This involves pulling together multiple groups, departments and divisions from within the customer into a half day session that discusses their pain points and what each group is trying to achieve.

You will often find that many of these people have never met each other, but this project pulls them together with a shared set of goals and so you are helping to build bridges.

The demos used here should be focussed on the outcomes that had been previously identified in the discovery phase with each of the groups, but these are now discussed with the larger group.  The demo is a storytelling tool that highlights the future state for the groups and creates a shared vision of the future.

This is a great opportunity to influence RCs that are competitive advantages for us.  To do this you might use phrases like “We see other customers in this space needing this capability” or “We usually see customers adopting this as best practice” and then use the demo to show it. We should have already worked with our Champion to ensure that any competitor that enters the process will have to prove themselves against the list of RCs that we agreed with the customer.  These competitive traps increase our win potential.

Technical Deep Dives

After we have built the list of Required Capabilities we need to set about working with the groups that are involved in the project and showing them how we go about addressing the challenges that they face.  We do this through Technical Deep Dives.  This is where the SE needs all of their skill and knowledge.  

The demo shows our capabilities against the RCs and is also helping to find any details that may cause problems.  The Deep Dive should be a bi-directional information exchange to ensure that the customer understands what we do, how we do it and why we do it our way.

Proof Phase

The final demo type is in the proof phase.  I usually hear people say that we should go to a Proof of Value (POV) or Proof of Concept (POC), but they are not the only options to prove to the customer that we can do what we say.  A POV is a very powerful tool but also introduces risk into the process.  Instead, we could use the Technical Deep Dives to sign off specific RCs and get agreement during the meeting that we meet the criteria. We could sign certain RCs off with a reference call or visit.  This could mean that we are left with a relatively small list of RCs that need to be proven.  That could be done with a really well run proof demo, especially if the customer needs to move quickly and does not have time to run a POV.

Key Points to Remember

Now we know the types of demos that we should be using, but there are also some key points to remember that are applicable to all of the demo types.  I will start with an obvious statement : Demos need to be well planned.  We need to understand what we have to do to be successful in the session and we have to plan how we will achieve the goal.

Demos need to focus on outcomes and not technologies.  We might have the best technology in the world, but if it does not solve a customer problem then who cares !

There will often be at least one person from the customer that wants to show just how much they know and they just keep asking questions, maybe trying to test you.  Do NOT try to compete with them.  My advice is to openly recognise their knowledge of the subject but then invite them to another session that can focus on their needs because we don’t want to take too much time out of the session that would impact the other attendees. 

When you are running the demos, ensure that the AE is watching the room to gather reactions and feedback.  Demos are a great time to read the room to see which people are supporters and who might be a threat.  They are also great opportunities to identify people that could become our Technical Champions.  Likewise, when the AE is talking, observe the attendees yourself so that you can also provide feedback on them.



Great demos are storytelling events.  You are taking the customer FROM somewhere TO somewhere, helped by our great products and services and allowing them to achieve their positive business outcomes.  Some customers are well educated on the topic, but many are not.  We need to use our skill and experience to guide them with the right demo at the appropriate time in the sales cycle.  If we do this then we go from being a good SE to being a great SE.


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